Exercise 1.1: Influential Books

Updated: Mar 11

After finding my preferred workflow back in KSI-1, I started my first exercise in Creative Book Design after a hiatus between course units and It took me a while to find my way back into the rhythm of things. This first exercise invited me to explore the books that have influenced me throughout my life, so I took to my bookshelf to look at my personal collection of, with some title reaching all the way back to my childhood.


Once I started digging though, I found many more books that held a personal significance that I had long since forgotten. The reasons for each choice were varied and for some it was not just the subject of the books that mattered the most to me, but the tactile feel of them in my hands that accompanied my memories of when I first read or received them.

Taking notes on a gathering of personally significant books from my shelf.

Using the age categories suggested in the exercise brief, I made small notes about each of these titles and listed them out in my sketchbook with some rough notes and reminders on how they have had an effect on me alongside lists of other seminal works that have connections to my chosen books. After running through a few ideas what would be the best way to visually show this information and talk about their connections here in my learning log, I had originally decided to plot out each book cover in a large spider diagram, showing each of their connections to their influences.

Sketchbook notes and ideas.

However, in as I filled the page with a rough layout, it became apparent to me that it would soon become difficult to clearly annotate once the branches or seminal works were added as the overall image became more chaotic. To keep things simple for the purpose of explaining my books, I i stead chose a simpler compilation of images with a few short paragraphs in the format that I've listed them in below.

Early years

It was tricky for me to remember some of my first books, which have long since left my shelf to be rehomed in charity shops, so I asked my parents if they had any memories of what they read to me that would give me some reminders. I was soon recalling some of my first early reading picture books, many of which feature animals as the protagonists in short cosy stories by British authors. One key example of were the stories of Old Bear and Friends, which were always relatable to my own stuffed animals and the adventures I would Imagine them having.


For books that were still aimed at children but at a higher reading age than I could handle at the time, I have fond memories of being read bedtime stories from The Railway Stories or tales from the river bank in The Wind In The Willows. Many of these titles at this stage were also running as adapted TV Series' at the time, which only added to my enthusiasm when I would see a familiar character on the cover of a new book. Some of these books also had interactive elements with pop outs and doors to open to help introduce reading as an enjoyable activity.

The concept of books specifically made for children had to be preceded first by a cultural shift towards children being recognised as having individual needs separate from adults. This happened around the time of the 1600's, when publishers began to produce mostly education content aimed at children until around 1744, when John Newbury's A Little Pretty Pocket-Book was published as what is considered the first true book made for children's enjoyment. As printing methods continued to advance, children's literature had become a widespread industry by the 1800's with some books engineering complex interactive moving parts.


The idea of the modern children's book is still a relatively new development as mass colour printing first became available in the 1920's. This innovation popularised the production of new picture focussed titles such as Millions of Cats and Barbar that would later inspire similar large page visual formats all the way into the 1980's and 1990's, when many of my early childhood favourites were first published for me to enjoy.

Childhood

As a child, when I could read independently and choose my own books to read at primary school, my interests turned to learning with the ever popular Horrible Histories and Horrible Science series' that helped to make my learning experiences more interesting. I would always have a copy of one of them in my book bag, ready to be read at breaks or quiet reading time.


Outside of school I developed an interest in comics through weekly editions of the Beano, and would often be given annuals and anthologies as birthday and Christmas gifts. My enjoyment of these illustrated stories took me to find works featuring older characters such as Lord Snooty, and I also branched out into the work of American cartoonists with Calvin and Hobbs, which I still enjoy returning to read again today.



Popular comical parody and satire illustrations in the 1700's provided the basis for what would later evolve into the sequences of captioned panels that we recognise today, with the first notable example being The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck in 1837. By the 1930's, what is considered to be the golden age of American comic strips had begun and regular publications of shorts from familiar characters that would lead to the creation of iconic pop culture characters from Peanuts and Garfield by the end of the 20th century.


Calvin and Hobbs ran from 1985-1995 and was considered one of the last great American comic strips of this era and along with its contemporaries would produce many anthology books and compilations of strips for years to come. By contrast, the Beano was a weekly Scottish standalone magazine that featured a full cast of different characters, including Lord Snooty that appeared from in the first issue of the comic in 1938 until the character was retired in 1991.

Teenager


I read the most prolifically when I was a teenager and invested myself in some of the numerous young adult fiction series' that were a massively popular format in the 2000’s. Almost all of my favourites had fantasy and gothic horror elements such as the Goosebumps books that were always in regular circulation between students at my schools library. I was a fan of Anthony Horrowitz' Alex Rider and Gatekeeper franchises and would eagerly await new releases that continued the multi book plotlines from the franchises that I enjoyed.


Pottermainia was also at its height at this time with new books being written and released as earlier titles in the series were produced as films. I have distinct memories of the release of The Order of the Phoenix, where as a family we spent a day hunting for the mostly sold out bestseller. At the end of the day, we were delighted to find a full stack of the fiery red illustrated hardbacks in an unexpected place as a petrol station we passed by on the way home still had some stock left unsold.



The gothic fiction writers of the 18th and 19th centuries produced a myriad of classic titles such as Dracula, Frankenstein and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde that together helped to further establish recurring motifs that mixed scientific narratives with supernatural horror. These books would often have an emphasis on the psychological effects that strange events would have on each of their characters, which gives them grounded human perspectives for readers to sympathise with today. Gothic elements later permeated into many Victorian novels, including the work of science fiction writers such as H.G Wells and Jules Verne.


The fantasy elements of my favourites have notable connections to The Lord Of The Rings series, which in turn can trace roots back to multiple mythologies from Greek, Medieval and Norse legends and folklore. These were skilfully woven together by Author J.R.R Tolkien in a shared universe in a method of world building emulated by many of the writers I read as a teenager, offering easy escapism for the minds of the reader in well realised worlds full of horrors, heroics, monsters and magic.


Early Adulthood


In my early adult years as I moved out of secondary education and into A-Level and beyond, my book purchases shifted heavily towards titles that supported my interest in learning about art and design. In one of my A-Level Art modules I was asked to pick a movement as a focus for study, which led me to investigating surrealism after reading a brief overview in Art: A Definitive Visual Guide. Exploring surrealism was one of my best learning experiences from that time and informed a lot of my artistic choices from that point onwards.



Books for academic use date back as far as ancient times, where multiple scholars and philosophers would gather together their writings regarding all aspects of cultural life into single glossaries. One of the earliest surviving assemblies of this kind of information with similar methods to what we see today was Naturae Historiae by the Roman author Piny The Elder, where editorial style of this volume of ancient knowledge set some of the standards for how encyclopaedias are constructed today.


Thousands of years later and first published in 1768, another notable example of an influential encyclopaedia is the Encyclopædia Britannica. As one of the oldest surviving English printed encyclopaedias and its comprehensive collection of information has seen multiple revisions. It has since sustained itself beyond books to adapt to a modern age with disk and online versions over the years, inspiring further open source online communities such as the open sources contributions that form the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia. This commonly recognised online hub of information may be popular, but has drawbacks in some of the accuracy over its information, and is no substitute for the traditionally written books on subjects that have been cited and reviewed by academic experts in the relevant fields.


Charles Darwin's On The Origin of the Species is one of the most famous pieces of scientific literature of the modern age by having a huge social influence on how science is viewed by the general public and influencing new approaches to researching and presenting the taxonomy of specialist subjects for a general audience. Much like the branching species of Darwin's theory of evolution, books sharing knowledge are constantly adapting as new discoveries are made by specialists, then revised and released as new editions or titles as society learns from itself.


Present Day

In more recent times, the type of reading I do has less of a joint focus as I tend read up on franchises that I'm already interested in through books that support media from films, television series' and video games. I like to use these books to expand on the mythologies of each world or learn more on how artists and designers have crafted the franchises that I enjoy. I've also started to trace back to some of the notable works that have influenced my favourite works by reading the stories of classic authors such as the beautifully bound covers of Jules Verne and H.G Wells story collections.


Occasionally a book will come to my attention purely through its popularity, such as Charlie Mackey's The Boy, The Mole, the Fox and The Horse, which has also become one of my recent favourites with some comparisons being drawn to Winnie The Pooh with a darker edge. As a beautifully illustrated example of a loose narrative that makes full use of the medium to offer a unique perspective on the struggles of life, I've come to adore it alongside many others as a book offering comfort for children and adults alike.

Taking a Journey through my book collection offered me so much more to think about than expected and this list is by no means exhaustive as tracing back the full breadth of influences that seminal works have had on my interests could easily become an endless task. The amount of potential avenues for research that I was discovering did feel overwhelming at points, so I have admittedly limited myself a bit in my brief overviews, but in the future I would love to take deeper dives into the origins of relevant genres that could help me inform my own designs and work.

Bibliography


Bellis, M. (2019) The Colorful History of Comic Books and Newspaper Cartoon Strips At: https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-comic-books-1991480


Corba, L. (2014) A Brief History of the Pop Up Book At: https://blog.bookstellyouwhy.com/a-brief-history-of-the-pop-up-book


Kindt, J. / Latty, T. Guide to the classics: Darwin’s On the Origin of Species At: https://theconversation.com/guide-to-the-classics-darwins-on-the-origin-of-species-96533


L. Collison, R. / E. Preece, W. (2020) History Of Encyclopaedias At: https://www.britannica.com/topic/encyclopaedia/History-of-encyclopaedias


Masters, K. (2012) A Brief History of Children's Literature. At: https://blog.bookstellyouwhy.com/bid/230055/a-brief-history-of-children-s-literature


Mullan, J. (2014) The origins of the Gothic At: https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/the-origins-of-the-gothic


Popova, M. (2012) A Brief History of Children's Picture Books and the Art of Visual Storytelling At: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/02/a-brief-history-of-childrens-picture-books-and-the-art-of-visual-storytelling/253570/


Sommerlad, J. (2017) The Hobbit at 80: What were JRR Tolkien's inspirations behind his first fantasy tale of Middle Earth? At: https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/hobbit-80-jrr-tolkien-anniversary-published-lord-rings-middle-earth-fantasy-inspiration-myths-fairy-tales-a7957321.html


W.H.Smith Blog (2014) The History of The Beano Book At: https://blog.whsmith.co.uk/history-beano/